We were early. Neighbor Roy & I are almost always early. Why anyone would go to a restaurant during crowded peak mealtimes is beyond us. That’s because we can’t remember far enough back to the days when we actually worked for a living and there was only one lunch hour for the entire world. How stupid is that? How hard would it be to stagger lunch hours. Some workers go from 11-12; others 12-1. Just a suggestion.
It was a quarter to eleven on a recent Friday. Zinburger Wine & Burger Bar opens at 11. We were dreading having to stay in the car for 15 minutes in 100 plus degree heat. The alternative was to exit the car, run for shade if we could find any before we wilted, and wait for the restaurant to open their doorway to air-conditioned comfort.
Suddenly, a young lovely, noticing our predicament, poked her head out the front door and motioned for us to come in. Now that's service!
Roy & I had dined at Zinburger many times, but not recently. Last year we declared Zinburger Numero Uno: Best Burgers In Tucson. We were here to determine if it could retained its title, given all the new competition.
So far, we have 10 candidates for Best Burgers In Tucson: (1) Monkey Burger & (2) Diablo Burger (both downtown); (3) Lindy’s on 4th Avenue; (4) Cody’s Beef & Beans on Ft. Lowell; (5) Trident on Speedway near the U of A; (6) Cayton’s Burger Bistro at the Golf Club at Dove Mountain (aka The Ritz); (7) Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse; & (8) Garden Bistro at Tohono Chul Park; and (9) The Lodge Sasquatch Kitchen. Zin would be number 10; and there might ... might be one other. Editor's Note: Here's the link to the results of Best Burger in Tucson reviews: SouthernArizonaGuide.com > Dining > Best Dining > Best Burgers In Tucson.
Why only one other? Roy & I are tired of burgers. We can hardly wait to review a good seafood restaurant; or Thai, or Italian, or Greek, or … anything but another burger joint.
What’s a Zinburger?
Yet, we pressed onward & did our duty. Roy ordered a Zinburger: Angus beef, Manchego cheese, braised onions, & mayo ($10). Manchego cheese is made from unpasteurized sheep's milk & is produced in Spain’s La Mancha region. La Mancha is also home to the fictional Don Quixote and his squire, Sancho Panza, who were immortalized in Cervantes’ masterpiece.
Note: “Angus” beef has nothing to do with the quality of the meat. “Angus” is merely a type of cow/steer/bull. However, if a restaurant touts its “USDA prime cut” Angus beef, then (if true) we’re talking a higher quality than mere “USDA choice”. “Black” Angus simply means the cow you’re eating had a black hide. It’s the most popular beef cattle in the U.S. But just because a restaurant or butcher puts the word “Angus” on the label doesn’t mean that it’s of higher quality than any other. It’s just marketing designed to trick consumers into paying more for beef that isn't necessarily better.
When Is Kobe Beef Not Kobe Beef?
I ordered a Kobe Burger: “American-Style” Kobe beef, Cheddar cheese, sautéed mushrooms, & mayo ($15). I did so because Zinburger says it’s their best and, when dining for a review, I like to sample whatever the restaurant believes they excel at. Seems only fair.
Note: “Kobe” beef refers to cuts of beef from the Tajima strain of wagyu cattle that are raised in Hyogo Prefecture, Japan. The Japanese consider Kobe beef to be a delicacy; world-famous for its flavor, tenderness, and well–marbled texture. Several Japanese that I have known say that our best American beef is not in the same class as their Kobe beef. (Snobs!)
Perhaps I’ll never know because neither you nor I can buy real Japanese Kobe beef in the U.S. Many U.S. restaurants claim they serve Kobe beef. They lie. Others use a linguistic slight-of-hand and call their high-priced beef “American-Style Kobe”. Nevertheless, American-Style Kobe beef is not pure Kobe beef, even though it may be priced as such.
For example, at Zinburger, my “Kobe” Burger was $5 more than Roy’s “Angus Beef” Zinburger. Presumably, the beef patty in my “Kobe” Burger came from domestically-raised wagyu cattle crossbred with Angus cattle. So, technically, my “Kobe” burger should have been only $2.50 more than Roy’s “Angus” burger
What do “Cheddar” Cheese & An Ancient Skeleton Have In Common?
Cheddar cheese originated in the village of Cheddar located in South West England. Today, “Cheddar” cheese comes from many places.
Ms. Karen & I visited the Village of Cheddar years ago. Here, the Cheddar Gorge contains several caves that provide the ideal humidity and constant temperature for maturing cheese. In one of these caves, archeologists discovered “Cheddar Man”, the name given to the remains of a human male who died violently approximately 9,000 years ago. It is Britain’s oldest complete human skeleton.
We ordered only one side of “Hand-cut” fries because the menu suggests that the order is big enough for two. (It was.) Roy ordered his usual hot tea. Because we were at a wine & burger bar, I ordered a glass of dry white: Crossing’s Sauvignon Blanc ($8). (Lovely.)
Perhaps because we were the first patrons of the day, Zinburger service was especially prompt and attentive. Our waiter was a nice young man. Our first request was for him to turn down the @#$%& music so we didn’t have shout in order to have a conversation.
Houston, We Have A Problem
Also, because we were first, our order came up fast. Roy & I were only a few bites into our burgers when we both realized there was a problem. The buns were stale and flavorless. Not good.
I found myself pealing away portions of the top bun with each bite so it wouldn’t ruin an otherwise delicious burger.
This said, I don’t feel that it’s fair for us to ding Zinburger too harshly for the lousy bun because we have both dined here many times and never had this or any other problem with the burgers. Even the best restaurants can (and do) have an occasional off-day.
We brought the “bun” issue to the attention of Allison, the manager, who seemed genuinely apologetic, yet grateful that we told her so she could do something about it. Hopefully, she was able to find some fresh buns for the lunch crowd that came after us.
Zin fries are very good. We asked our waiter if they had been blanched, since we know now that blanching before frying is the secret to great fries. He assured us that they had been blanched, and then went to considerable length to explain the process. No matter … Roy & I agreed … damn good fries. (Just not as good as Monkey fries.)
When asked, he told us their beef comes from ranches in Idaho. My “American-Style Kobe” patty was a hefty half-pound of excellent meat: juicy, flavorful & cooked to perfection. I don’t know how it could have been better, even if the patty had been REAL Kobe beef. Loved the sautéed mushrooms.
At a mere 7 ounces, Roy’s Zinburger was much smaller. In hindsight, we should have split both burgers so that each of us could have sampled both the Kobe and Angus meats for comparison. Next time.
By the time we were finishing our burgers & fries, the lunch crowd had arrived and the place was becoming VERY noisy. Zin management apparently finds a high-decibel level desirable because they make zero effort to dampen the sound that ricochets off the hard surfaces … and all the surfaces are hard.
Ambiance-wise, Zinburger is like Janos Wilder’s Downtown Kitchen & Cocktails and Union House in St. Philip’s Plaza. Very good food. Excellent service. A pleasant interior setting. But extremely noisy at peak mealtimes.
Does Zinburger still have the best burgers in Tucson? Maybe. Possibly. Could be. It’s going to be close. Roy & I have to review our reviews and prioritize our criteria for determining such subjective ratings. You’ll know when we know; hopefully in a week or so.
Zinburger Wine & Burger Bar: two locations
6390 E Grant Road; Tucson, Arizona 85715. 520.298.2020
Hours: Sun – Thu 11am - 9:30pm. Fri – Sat 11am - 10:30pm.
1865 East River Road #101; Tucson, Arizona 85718. 520.299.7799
Hours: Sun – Thu 11am - 10pm. Fri – Sat 11am - 11pm.
Happy Hour: daily 4pm - 6pm.